Saturday, September 6, 2008

Corum – the Key to stylish timewear


Fifty years is just a blip in the long history of horology. But, Corum, founded in 1955, is a young watchmaker that achieved significant distinction. Rene Bannwart along with his cousin Simone and her father Gaston Ries founded the Corum watch brand in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland. They were dedicated to the ideal of ‘innovation’ in style.


One of the early Corum models of the young watchmaker was getting ready to be displayed in a major exhibition in 1958. In one of the brand’s marvelous moments of serendipity, the dial supplier of the new Corum model failed to deliver the dial in time.

Improvising at the last minute, Bannwart procured substitutes, but these only had Corum printed on them. The hour marking had been left out! With nothing else to do, Bannwart decided to call the model “Sans-Heures” (without – hours) and displayed the watch. The concept became an instant hit and has been copied by almost every watch maker in the last 50 years.

Corum has always been about style. From the outset Rene Bannwart was obsessed with the questions of style. Why do so many watch makers keep producing variations of the same old style, decade after decade? Could not something fresh and new be done? And so, style innovation held the key to Corum during all these 50 years. Admiral’s Cup, Coin watch, Romulus, Golden bridge and Bubble are all models with distinctive style. One of the most exquisite and unusual design is their famous ‘Rolls Royce’. RR which features the trademark Rolls Grille as the body and face of the watch complete with a tiny hood ornament. Their styles are strong and unique and their craftsmanship very high.


Admiral’s CupCorum is the first brand that set the stage for ‘Haute Horologerie’. The famous regatta, the Admiral’s Cup Race was first held in 1957 and the Corum Admiral’s Cup was introduced three years later in 1960. Admiral’s Cup is available in 40 mm, 41 mm, 44 mm and 48 mm as well as in versions with chronograph complication or just time and date. Other than the most distinctive design, Admiral’s Cup went well beyond stainless steel and gold in its use of material. Admiral’s Cup challenge Regatta 2007 uses titanium and rubber fusion as materials of construction. With no full stop to style, the most audacious material ever fused in the watch making industry was a limited edition, Admiral’s Cup made in Tungsten – one of the heaviest materials in the world.


Introduced in 1966, the Corum Romulus was the first watch ever to display the hour numerals on the bezel. It engraves the laurel crown in honour of Romulus, the founder of ancient Rome. Romulus is sought after by all watch collectors.

Golden Bridge

In a striking combination of imaginative style and technology, Corum designed this watch around a linear movement. Then the designer decided to put four sapphire sides in order to make the movement look like a floating bridge in mid- air. The Golden Bridge comes in 18 carat gold or platinum. A stunning piece from Corum!

Coin watch

One of the most recognisable Corum watches - the Coin watch, is still available almost 50 years after its debut. The $ 20 {lsquo}Double Eagle’ or the $ 10 {lsquo}Liberty’ gold coins are delicately sliced in the middle to form the dial and the back of the watch. The obverse and the reverse side of the coin hold the movement between them. As the supply of these gold coins began to diminish from America, the demand for the Corum Coin watches reached a frenzy. There are other copies of the Corum Coin watch but for a man who is looking for a distinctive style, copies are just not good enough! Corum’s passion for design innovations yielded in many other products including Corum Bubble as well as Admiral’s Cup Challenge 44 Split Second Chronograph Watch.

Stepping into America

The Bannwart family continued to manage Corum till December 1998. In the 50 years of existence, Corum brands have been incredibly popular in the US more than other parts of the world.

American businessman Severin Wunderman who had been keeping an eye on Corum for many years acquired the company in 2000 with his personal finances and named it as Severin Montres Ltd. Wunderman’s son, was the President of the company and in 2007, a great horologe professional Antoine Calce, joined him as the CEO.

They both want to carry forward the renowned motto of Corum. The watch brand displays the kind of creativity and innovation that plays a major role in setting new trends, something which it has always been at ease with and firmly intends to continue in the future.

If you are looking for style, sport a Corum.

Its buckles and crown would have been signed with Corum’s distinctive ‘key’ logo that says “This is the key to style”.

This first appeared in Smartbuy section of BusinessLine of Sep 3rd, 2008

Horology at its Olympic best


The Olympic Games at Beijing will put all previous editions in the shade as far as time- keeping equipment and staff is concerned. Time keeping and data handling for the 302 competitions being held at 38 venues is expected to involve the use of 250 tons of equipment and well over 300 technicians and engineers.

70 large electronic score boards will be required. Before the equipment were shipped from Omega’s factory in Biel in Switzerland, the whole arsenal of special timing devices, photo camera, display boards, transponders and touch pads would have been thoroughly checked.

Omega triggers the trend

This is a far cry from the Los Angeles games in 1932 where official time keeping by a watch company was introduced for the first time.Omega’s subsidiary Lemania manufactured stop watches with chronographs to be used for the first time in Olympics. Omega of course, has the distinction of being the time keeper of the Olympic Games for the 24th time at Beijing.

As the quadrennial games moved from Los Angeles to Berlin in 1940, Omega supplied 185 chronographs roughly 6 times the number as in Los Angeles. The company had to then deploy a full time repair squad to attend to the chronographs. In 1948, London witnessed the camera with a timer for the first time from the Omega company. Londoners nicknamed the gadget as the ‘Magic Eye’.

Helsinki in 1952, received Quartz technology from Omega for the first time. It is at Helsinki, that time recorders could record one hundredth of a second for the first time. First semi automatic timing device with a digital display known as the eight-o-matic swim timer was introduced in Melborne in 1954.

The 1960 Rome games witnessed the first black African Abebe Bikila winning a gold in the marathon. Omega once again recorded the time. First full electronic time keeping was introduced in Mexico City in 1968 where Omega introduced ‘touch pads’. At the 1976 Montreal games, Nadia Comaneci created history by scoring a perfect 10. Omega’s electronic score board was not designed for displaying 10.0, so the score was shown as 1.00. Omega’s tryst with the Olympics continued at Moscow in 1980, followed by the 1984 Los Angeles games again and then to Seoul in 1988.

Swatch takes the baton

The younger and the more illustrious of the family, Swatch, took forward the mantle from Omega for the next three Olympics. Atlanta, Sydney and Athens chose Swatch for time keeping. Swatch brought 20 innovations to the 1996 Atlanta games. The most notable was the ‘Global positioning system’ in the centenary games.

Swatch GPS measured time for sailing regattas. Sydney in 2000 witnessed the time keeper Swatch utilizing the internet for the first time. Within 15 seconds of the winner hitting the touch pad, the results appeared on the net. By the time Olympic Games returned to Athens in 2004, 108 years had gone by from the time of the first Olympic Games in Athens. Athens witnessed 44 times as many participants and 7 times as many events as in 1896.

Swatch did the time keeping for the event that was watched by 3.9 billion people around the world on television. Time keeping for Beijing Olympics is once again with the Swatch group but moved back specifically to the Omega brand. Visitors to the Chinese Metropolitan Museum can admire the very stop watch that was used to measure the time in the 1932 games. To commemorate the event, Omega has produced a limited edition ‘Pocket watch 1932′ hand-finished in 18 karat gold. Each one is worth Swiss Francs 95,000.

25 and still ticking

As the Olympic Games returns to London in 2012 for the second time, Swatch Group CEO, Nickolas Hayek has already signed a contract with IOC for Omega to be the time keeper to the Olympics for the 25th time. As Nick Hayek explains, “our commitment to the Olympics games is much more than just a name on a display board or a screen. All of the Swatch Group companies share the core philosophy of the Olympic movement, which celebrates humanity more than anything else.” Games, sports and adventure have pushed time keepers to constantly innovate. The contribution of Olympics to the world of horology is immense.

Not surprisingly, watches specially manufactured for the Olympics are a great hit amongst collectors. Enjoy Beijing’s time keeping with the Swatch group!

This first appeared in the "Smartbuy" section of BusinessLine of Aug 20,2008

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

IWC- the American watch-maker


By mid 19th century, Switzerland was beginning to be acknowledged as a horology capital of the world. Patek had arrived from Poland and Rolex was planning to move its headquarters from London to Geneva. Great watchmakers from Europe and America migrated to Switzerland to add to its horology eco-system.


America in the 1860s was emerging as a great watch making country. ELGIN, Howard and Waltham were already making the top 100 pocket watches of the world. But American labour costs were becoming prohibitive and watch-making was becoming unviable. Aristo Florentin Jones as Director of E Howard & Co., watchmaker in Boston, was already finding it difficult to run his company. What Dennison & Co., a leader in the watch business failed to do, Jones decided to try – to migrate to Switzerland in search of cheap and high quality watch making labour force. He did not land in Geneva like most other watchmakers. He landed in Schaffhausen in Eastern Switzerland on the bank of River Rhine, for the most unlikely reason.

A decade earlier, engineer Johann Heinrich Moser had set up a dam on Rhine to produce hydroelectricity. Jones was most enamoured to set up a watch factory that runs on electricity! He approached Moser to become a partner and Moser readily agreed. They named their company as International Watch Co. and till date all IWC watches carry Schaffhausen as an integral part of the branding in every watch they make.

On the back of modern engineering and technology from the US, Schaffhausen, located at the border between Germany and Switzerland brought a new dimension of engineering rigour to Swiss watch making. In the words of Roland Ott, Director of Communications of IWC, “Design is important but we will look for elegant technology solutions”. There is a Teutonic rigour and obsession with technical aspects in every stage of production. In 1903, IWC established its official moto “Good, solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen”. Over the years, IWCs culture has been “to make watches which are more unstated and pure than in the French part of Switzerland.” So here is the ‘Germanic-Swiss’ watch!

One of the revolutionary watches that IWC made was in 1936, known to collectors as Mark IX – featuring a shatterproof glass, a rotating bezel, antimagnetic movement and starkly contrasting, luminescent hands and numerals. This was a special pilot’s watch. Mark IX was followed by Mark XI and Mark XII. Since 2003 the pilots watch has been named after the legendary spitfire, a time piece clearly modelled on superior technology and cool elegance.

IWC is known for its famous 81-, 85-, 852 calibre movements that were incorporated from 1940s in their automatic models, branded Ingenieur models. These also incorporated IWC’s anti-magnetic qualities. Ingenieur would not stop at 500,000 ampere/meters and could withstand a MRI scanner. The same features got incorporated also in the Marine Yatch Club models.

Left up to its technology image, IWC was involved in the development of the first quartz movement named Beta 21 quartz that was displayed in Basel Fair in 1969. IWC used Beta 21 in its legendary watch Da Vinci in the mid-70s. Since the days of its pilot watch, IWCs chronographed Da Vinci watches are hugely sought after by collectors.

The other popular model of IWC introduced in 1930s is called Portuguese. The watch is so named because the original watches were made with a special request from Portugal to incorporate a pocket watch movement into manufacturing a large wristwatch. Portuguese also continues to be an extremely popular make from IWC.

Jones and Moser could only run the business till 1880. Then the company passed on to an Industrial family ‘Raucheloenback–Vogel’ from Schaffhausen. Four generations of the ‘Raucheloenback–Vogel’ family ran IWC. The most unlikely descendant of the ‘Raucheloenback–Vogel’ family who managed IWC for a while was Dr. Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist who is related by marriage to the family.

True to its tradition IWC always employed prominent technicians in the company. Johann Vogel as a Technical Director designed and developed all calibres till 1990. Similarly, Austrian designer Pallweber designed and manufactured the first digital watch in the world. IWC’s quest for new technology got the company to join hands with Porsche Design and IWC used Titanium for the first time in the industry in 1978. To make sure that IWC is no ordinary watch, bezels are rotated 16,000 times, 5 kg weights are slammed into them, they are dropped into tanks of salty water, mercilessly rattled around for 16 hours and then subject to freezing followed by baking. Should the IWC watch ever need a service or repair, the stock room can supply spare wheels and dials that date back to 1885.

By 1991, IWC Director Blumlein founded the LMH group with its headquarters in Schaffhausen. By then, the LMH group had taken over 60 per cent of Jaeger–LeCoultre and 90 per cent in Saxony based watch maker A.Lange and Sohne. Gunter Blumlein, another giant of the Swiss watch making industry who also like Hayek led the industry out of crisis by the 70s succumbed to a takeover in 2000. His group, the LMH was acquired by Richemont. In 2001, it was the end of another great watch making era in Switzerland.

By the time Richemont bought IWC and other brands, they were already owning the famous Vendome luxury group. More about Richemont Group in this column later.

Between its models of Ingenieur, Spitfire, Da vinci, Portuguese and others, IWC sells about 60,000 watches per year through its 700 outlets in the world including the Ethos boutique in Mumbai. At 60,000 a year, IWC makes about 10 per cent compared to Rolex’s 6,00,000 but almost three times that of Patek Philippe. Unfortunately Jones is hardly remembered as the American who integrated technology with Germanic rigour and gave a unique dimension to Swiss horology.


* This first appeared in Smarbuy, a supplement of Businessline on Aug 6, 2008

Cartier: A jewel amongst watches


Caroline, Queen of Naples was the first person in the world who wore a wrist watch, which was designed and manufactured by Abraham Breguet.

That was in the year 1812. For nearly a century after that (99 years to be precise) men never got an opportunity to wear a wrist watch. That development only happened in the year 1911 when the Parisian jeweller, Cartier sold the first men’s wrist watch branded as ‘Santos’. Louis Cartier (1875 – 1942) in fact had been credited for creating the first man’s wrist watch in 1904, when he designed one for his friend and client, Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont.The Brazilian, who was one of the early pioneers of aviation, needed a suitable timepiece for his dare devil flights.

The first Cartier Santos was designed by Edmond Jaeger (a famous watch maker himself) and continues to be a fashionable watch even today.
The history of Cartier in many ways starts with Louis Francois Cartier (1819 – 1904), even though his grandfather known by the same name started his business as a goldsmith in Paris. In 1874, Alfred Cartier took over the business from his father Louis Francois. Alfred’s three sons, Louis (Jr), Pierre and Jacques eventually converted the family business into a global empire.
Louis Cartier’s (Jr) marriage to Countess Almasey of Hungary got the family’s entry into the Royalty of Europe. One of his important clients, King Edward VII once described Louis Cartier as ‘The jeweller of Kings, the King among jewellers’.

King Edward VII appointed Cartier to his Court and granted him permission to open the Cartier store at 4, Burlington Street in London in 1902. By then Cartier had been selling his jewellery to the Tsars of Russia, virtually all the Crown Heads in Europe, most Maharajahs of India and the Kings of Siam and Nepal.

Pierre Cartier took the Cartier brand to America and sold the famous, ‘Hope Diamond’, to Mrs. Evalyn Mclean in New York.

Louis and Jacques both died in 1942 and the empire began to crumble. By 1962, operations in London and New York were sold off to independent owners and Cartier was in real danger of loosing its global dominance as a jeweller.

Throughout the 19th century gentlemen considered it appropriate to carry only time pieces. Wrist watches were considered to be too feminine. The Cartier Santos’ promos showed that an adventurous gentleman was wearing a wrist watch in all elements of his life.The ‘Tank’ introduced in 1917 is the most famous Cartier watch model. During World War I, Louis Cartier was inspired by the tough new war machines that the Americans introduced in Europe. The ‘Tank’ with a rugged yet beautiful design became a classic.

Being a jeweller, Cartier broke free from traditional watch shapes namely, circular and rectangular. Cartier was responsible for the introduction of square, tortue, tonneau and oval shapes in wrist watches.

The most bizarre shape was designed by R. Emerson and introduced to the market in 1960 called the ‘Crash’. The first watch in an uneven shape and many people called it the ‘Dali watch’ even though Surrealist artist Salvador Dali had nothing to do with it.

The Pasha of Moracco ordered Cartier to design an exclusive watch for his golden jubilee. Cartier commercially could not sell the design for the next fifty years being contractually prohibited.
On the completion of the contracted fifty year period Cartier introduced Pasha during the mid-90’s and Pasha is now the largest selling Cartier model in steel, gold and platinum.

A lesser known fact is that Louis Cartier was the first jeweller to have introduced platinum to jewellery and the first piece of such jewellery was sold to the Russian Royalty.

Cartier went through a rough patch and a gradual sliding down of Cartier was to be arrested with investors Joseph Kanoui taking control of Cartier Paris in 1972. It took Kanoui another seven years to buy back Cartier operations in London and New York and recreate the original Cartier Empire.

By 1988 Cartier had acquired two major Swiss watch brands namely, ‘Piaget’ and ‘Baume & Mercier’. By 1993, Kanoui, with help and assistance from Alain Perrin had created a brand new group called the ‘Vendome Luxury Group’.

Vendome now owns such illustrious brands as Cartier, Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, Chloe and Hackett.

Will the Vendome Group be a threat any time soon to the Swatch Group?

The answer lies in replicating Hayek’s fundamental strategy, namely, when will the Vendome Group introduce a sub-$100 watch and how successful will it be in capturing the mass market?
Vendome does not have a super premium watch and it does not have a mass market watch. Cartier, not withstanding its history is squeezed in the middle. What makes life more difficult is that a large percentage of Cartier watches are now available with Quartz movements!
How I wish Vendome will take us back to Cartier’s glorious days!


The Designer's value-add

While ace designers who have created some stunning watches and pens have disappeared into oblivion, Pradipta K Mohapatra gives them a well-deserved tribute and also applauds Porsche's design initiatives

Rodolphe, Who? One of the most successful watch designers of our time, Rodolphe started his career as a trainee at Longines. He created a range of new concepts and was quickly noticed by his superiors. He was soon given the responsibility of re-launching Longines watches in the most fashion conscious market of Italy.
At the height of success, Rodolphe got carried away into believing that Longines' success may have been due to Rodolphe's designs. He promptly negotiated with Longines to launch a new line of watches branded 'Rodolphe'. The brand was a disaster resulting in Rodolphe existing and starting his own independent design house with a dozen designers called Rodolphe and Co. Finally, the famous watch company Franck Muller bought a majority stake in Rodolphe and Co. in 2005. We haven't heard about Rodolphe since …
Unlike other fashion industries such as garments and accessories, watch designers have been somewhat low profile backroom boys. They do their job, get paid for it, occasionally win a design award and are never acknowledged more than that. There are of course exceptions.

Rodolphe, Who? One of the most successful watch designers of our time, Rodolphe started his career as a trainee at Longines. He created a range of new concepts and was quickly noticed by his superiors. He was soon given the responsibility of re-launching Longines watches in the most fashion conscious market of Italy.

At the height of success, Rodolphe got carried away into believing that Longines’ success may have been due to Rodolphe’s designs. He promptly negotiated with Longines to launch a new line of watches branded ‘Rodolphe’. The brand was a disaster resulting in Rodolphe existing and starting his own independent design house with a dozen designers called Rodolphe and Co. Finally, the famous watch company Franck Muller bought a majority stake in Rodolphe and Co. in 2005. We haven’t heard about Rodolphe since …

Unlike other fashion industries such as garments and accessories, watch designers have been somewhat low profile backroom boys. They do their job, get paid for it, occasionally win a design award and are never acknowledged more than that. There are of course exceptions.

Our own Rohit Bal
Titan pulled a bit of a surprise couple of years ago by getting Rohit Bal, the famous fashion designer to design a watch for them. One must go on record to say that Titan could well get a Guinness record for the largest number of watch designs introduced by any single watch company! Alas, most of the designs are marginal variants of otherwise famous designs available in the world. How I wish they design and produce originals! Rohit Bal was an exception. The dial carried an enamel replica of a famous Moghul miniature of Emperor Jahangir carrying a rose. The dial also carried a signature emblem of Rohit Bal. An 18 carat rectangle gold case, leather strap and 18 carat gold buckle makes Nebula Rohit Bal a true collector’s watch.

Porsche Design
Prof. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, designer of the famous Porsche 911 and grandson of Porsche’s founder, opened a Porsche design studio in Stuttgart in 1972. By the time he moved to Austria two years later, he was already contemplating designing watches. The first Ferdinand Porsche design watch was manufactured by a Swiss Company Orfina in 1980 and later moved to the famous watch maker IWC. Currently Swiss watch maker Eterna, manufactures Porsche Design watches.

So what makes Porsche Design watches special? The best way to describe would be to say that his designs are inspired by something memorable. Say for example, Porsche design – ‘Dashboard Chronograph’ was inspired by Dashboard instruments of Porsche 911 sports car. It’s 3H automatic chronograph was inspired by German Military Bundeswehr design. The other specialty of his design is that the dials and seconds are minimalistic, sleek and stylish like that of a Porsche 911 and usually comes with a mat or brushed finish. For one reason or another Porsche Design prefers black or grey as distinct from solid metal finish.

The other specialty of Porsche design is the innovative materials they choose. Individual choice of distinctive material and construction has been used by many designers for watches as well as other luxury products such as writing instruments. Porsche Design was the first to recognise that Titanium has exceptional quality to be a fashion leader. Twenty five years ago Porsche – IWC introduced the first Titanium watch to the world. Titanium is fashionable to serious watch makers even today!

Aircraft designer United Technologies, looking for the hardest composite material, invented ‘Carbon Fibre’. No sooner, carbon fibre was commercially available and design house Dunhill used it to make the most distinctive writing instruments in the world. In recent years, some watch makers are using this material for their dial designs.

Take for example Porsche Design’s writing instrument TecFlex P3110 series. The body of the writing instrument is made out of a rope inter-woven by five strands of steel and gold - a master piece of imagination and design.
Dunhill pen

Watch maker Eterna’s CEO Ernst Seyr is an enthusiastic hobby pilot. Seyr felt that commercially available mechanical chronograph watches are rarely readable in poor light conditions and times of stress. He wanted a distinctive chronograph to be designed. Seyr first commissioned a brilliant watch maker Paul Gerber of the Horological Academy of Independent Creators (AHCI) to conduct the feasibility of such a watch.

Finally he commissioned Porsche Design to produce a professional measurement instrument that will delight not just affluent sports enthusiasts, but also connoisseurs of mechanical compilations. The result is Porsche Design Indicator.

That is what it takes to design a great watch.

Titan enters serious horology

Nebula ZeusNebula Zeus

Joining hands with the competition is the current flavour in global business. But, many would have thought a Indo-Swiss collaboration for watches unimaginable, especially when it involves Swatch - the world’s biggest watch-maker. Has Titan achieved the impossible… just in time?

Titan Industries’ Managing Director, Bhaskar Bhat is about to write magnificent history; adding to the even otherwise illustrious Titan saga. He just launched Titan’s first mechanical automatic watch branded ‘Nebula Zeus’. Encased in a solid 18 ct gold, handcrafted case, this new watch has been priced at Rs 1.1 lakh.

Zeus brings in many first’s to Titan:

- First watch to cross the Rs one lakh barrier
- First mechanical automatic watch launched
- India’s first ‘Limited Edition’ watch, limited to 500 pieces
- First watch in asymmetric design
- First watch with 42 hours power reserve

Bhat’s coup is that Zeus is the first watch built around a Indo-Swiss partnership. Zeus has been designed by Mike Foley, who has many award winning watches in his portfolio.

Dancing with the enemy

In the bad old days of intense competition, during the 90’s, Xerxes Desai and Nicolas Hayek, founder of the Swatch Group, won’t be seen at the Basel Watch Fair together. In the new era, its time for ‘coopitition’ i.e., co-operating with competition. Hayek and Bhat have worked together with a new spirit of crafting India’s first gold mechanical watch. Swatch Group’s Company, ETA, has supplied its 2836 – 2 caliber automatic movement as original equipment for Nebula Zeus.

The watch is crafted out of a solid piece of gold brick with a screw-in transparent back cover. The ETA movement appropriately gold-plated, offers a magnificent view from the back of the watch. Leather fixed strap with an 18 ct buckle, adds to the embellishment of the watch. Clearly, Titan has now arrived in the world of serious horology. Will they launch a line of mechanical and automatic watches? (Read Bhaskar Bhat’s interview).

So near, yet so far

What does it take to sell a watch priced at more than $1,000? We have a great lot to learn from the Swiss in this area. A couple of early lessons for us to learn. First, how many people know that Omega, Longines, Rado, Tissot and Swatch come from the same company, namely Swatch? Swatch Group’s response, “A brand stands for certain specific values and consumer proposition.”

It is therefore very inhibitive to broadband Omega and Longines or let’s say, a Breguet under the same umbrella brand. Titan, in this instance, continues to be the ‘Oppressive parent’ or charitably spoken the ‘Doting parent’ to Nebula. Just in case the customer forgets the parent’s name; Titan’s name has been boldly printed at the back of the watch!

When will Titan feel confident enough to let Nebula stand-up as an independent brand? There are other things to learn, namely; embellishment. Why should a Rupee One lakh watch come with the same packaging box as a Five Thousand Rupee watch? Why can’t the company give an individualized certificate from the CEO to every proud owner of the Zeus?

Notwithstanding the fact that we have many lessons to learn from the Swiss and German luxury brand owners, let’s celebrate this landmark event of India’s arrival in serious horology. And, this is entirely thanks to Bhaskar Bhat vision for Titan and its Nebula range.

Interview with Bhaskar Bhat

HBL- How did Zeus arrive?
BB- We have been researching on introducing a mechanical watch for a long
time and Zeus, in many ways, is being test-marketed at the top-end of the
HBL- How did you manage Swatch Group to supply you mechanical
BB- I have kept a very good relationship with Swatch Group and as indeed
with Mr Nicolas Hayek. Remember, today is the day of ‘coopitition’.
HBL- What are the challenges for marketing a serious luxury product
like Zeus?
BB- The challenge is how to change the mindset. The Swiss have been
occupying the mind space of luxury consumers for over a hundred years. We
have made a beginning and we wish to move sure-footedly.
HBL- Are we going to see more in mechanical watches?
BB- Yes. But I cannot reveal more of our plans.
HBL- You deserve serious compliment from Indian watch loving
fraternity for your bold step.
BB- Thank you.

*(This was published originally in Smartbuy, a supplement of BusinessLine on June 25, 2008)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Breguet - The Inventor of Inventors

Bregeut - ChronographBreguetBreguetBreguet - chronographBreguet - chronograph
The question that is often asked when it comes to horology is who made the first wrist watch? The credit for that goes to Abraham-Louis Breguet who founded his business in 1775 and made the first wristwatch in 1812.

Napolean Bonaparte’s sister, Caroline who became Queen of Naples was already familiar with Breguet. After all, Queen Marie-Antoinette was already possessing several unique self-winding watches from Breguet. Louis the XVI too was a great collector of Breguet watches. However, it was Queen Caroline of Naples, who on June 8, 1810, commissioned Breguet to craft for her, the world’s first ‘wristwatch’.

Breguet took two and a half years to produce the legendary wristwatch that carried the number ‘2639′. The watch had unprecedented sophistication consisting of a repeating watch, oblong in shape and exceptionally slender. The wrist band was made out of human hair, intertwined with gold thread.

Those were the days of monarchies around the world. Royalties loved Breguet. Other than Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, Napolean Bonaparte, Talleyrand, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Queen Victoria, all owned a Breguet watch. Queen Victoria purchased a Breguet in 1838, barely one year after her ascent to the throne. Sir Winston Churchill bought his first Breguet in 1901 and Arthur Rubinstein bought his first in 1930.

Breguet caught the imagination of authors and writers. Stendhal, Pushkin, Balzac, Alexander Dumas, Thackrey and Victor Hugo have all made references to Breguet in their works.

The story goes that both Wellington and Napolean, consulted their Breguet watch during the battle of Waterloo!

Abraham-Louis Breguet, who was a student of mathematics, did his apprentice as a watchmaker and married the daughter of a prosperous French nobleman. Her dowry provided for financing Breguet’s watch making workshop in 1775. Abraham-Louis Breguet produced watches till his death in 1823, till he was 76 years old. This, almost half-century between 1775 and 1823 can be called the ‘golden age’ in the world of horology. It would appear that almost everything that had to be invented in horology was done during this period. Abraham-Louis Breguet was a shining amour of all the inventions. By 1780, Breguet had made the first self-winding watch known as ‘Perpetuelles’ those days. By 1783, he invented the famous ‘Blue Breguet hands’ and one with Arabic numerals known as ‘Breguet numerals’. By 1789, he invented the Ratchet key known as the ‘Breguet key’. He forgot to file a patent for ‘Breguet key’ and over the next ten years, many watch makers copied his Ratchet key concept. ‘Tourbillon’, which continues to be an object of imagination even today was invented by Breguet in 1801.

One of the last inventions of Abraham-Louis Breguet was a ‘Chronograph’. Breguet defined Chronograph as the one that permitted the precise measurement of intermediate periods or the length of time taken by two simultaneous events.

After the death of Abraham-Louis Breguet, his nephew ran the business in partnership with an Englishman, Edward Brown, who later became the sole-owner of the house of Breguet. Next century saw a series of owners till the Parisian jewellery brothers, Chaumet bought the company in 1968. Finally, destiny took the house of Breguet to be part of the Swatch Group headed by Nicolas G. Hayek in 1999.

Almost to prove that inventors carry a different genetic structure, Abraham-Louis’ great great grandson Louie Breguet (1880 – 1955) built the first manned helicopter. After a while Louie Breguet build cockpit watches which are still used in airlines. Unlike his great great grandfather, Louie Breguet didn’t make watches for the public.

Product range
‘Breguet Classique’ models continue to be in design, using the principles of the founder. They are ultra-thin, hand-wound or self-winding, Chronograph or Tourbillons. The cases are easily recognised by their coin-edge design and famous blue-hands.

Breguet’s Marine watches are based on the models supplied to the French Navy. Its largest selling models, Type XX and Aeronavale, maintain the design philosophy of the watch development for French Naval Air Services.

Not to forget that the first wristwatch ever made was for a lady; Breguet named its ladies range as ‘Reine de Naples’. Reine de Naples Cammea wristwatch is in 18 karat white gold, self-winding, bezel set with 40 diamonds, crown set with a one-fourth carat ‘briolette’ diamond. The dial with cameo is carved out of a natural seashell with 18-carat gold rotor, hand-engraved on a rose-engine, set with natural mother-of-pearl and has 40 hours power-reserve. Sapphire-crystal caseback. The strap is chocolate colour alligator with folding clasp set with 26 diamonds and comes with a sapphire-crystal caseback. Look for a Cammea if you are looking for sophistication.

Finally, a quaint Breguet story
In 1983, Queen Marie-Antoinette’s Breguet watch got stolen from a Jerusalem museum. In 2005, Nicolas G. Hayek challenged himself to precisely produce a second Queen Marie-Antoinette watch that was stolen. As Hayek’s replica watch was nearing completion in 2007, the spoils of the 1983 robbery suddenly reappeared in Jerusalem.

*(This was published originally in Smartbuy, a supplement of BusinessLine on June 18, 2008)